The Shock

The CrossIt’s that first week. You’ve been doing your best to follow the teacher who has been saying words of enlightenment that only upset the religious and political order of things. He has spoken in parables because these ideas are hard to comprehend after believing something else all your life. He has simplified and lived the words by his example.

The events of the past week have turned it all into chaos. The anger in the temple, the cryptic farewell at Passover. The execution.

Now, huddled and hidden, you wonder what will happen next. No Christology of men in purple robes yet, just your own shock, disappointment and fear.

Spending some time inside with this, far from the eggs and rabbits.

Awareness

St FrancisTwo weeks ago I fulfilled my quest to listen to Fr Richard Rohr celebrate Mass at Holy Family Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Father Richard has been a teacher of mine for several years, offering non-dualistic thinking and an appreciation of Jesus that, he has repeatedly said, many Christian churches miss.

I read and reflect on Fr Rohr’s daily meditations first thing every morning and enjoy several of his books, but I wanted to hear him in the context of Church. He preaches the alternative Franciscan orthodoxy and I wanted to be present to this within traditional Catholicism. I sat down in the middle of the church amidst mostly Hispanic parishioners. The church is large and it took a bit to adjust to the sound system, including the large built-in projection screens (which I abhor as they detract from my focus on the liturgy). Some of the responses  and now we have “consubstantial” in the creed, which ihave been changeds certainly in most parishioners’ daily vernacular.

The title of the homily was “Jesus’ Inaugural Address“, and I was struck by how Fr Rohr’s essential messages were preached inside such a traditional and unchanging institution (Pope Francis aside, of course). The rest of the liturgy was from formulations of late antiquity and medieval theology. Sin, died, went to hell and, of course, “consubstantial with the Father”. The best Fr Rohr could do with that was “sisters and brothers” not the usual.

For me, I’ll keep the rites as part of the conversation, but, for me, contemplation, mysticism and the simple teachings of Jesus need no connection with 4th Century Imperial Christianity.

I did get to shake Fr Rohr’s hand and offer him my own blessings I left church feeling spiritually uplifted. I stepped out into the sun and it had worked!

Note: The statue of St Francis sits in the courtyard of the Albuquerque Museum of Art. The facial expression is so unlike the usual backyard statuary.

Hurry and Christmas

There is a close connection between speed and impatience. Our culture has become so speeded up today that no one has time to be patient. People in a hurry cannot be patient—so people in a hurry cannot really love. To love, we need to be sensitive to those around us, which is impossible if we are racing through life engrossed in all the things we need to do.
Eknath Easwaran
Blue Mountain Journal Winter 2015

Part of Christmas for me in the past has been that the season was tied to the retail clock, which runs increasingly faster from the first of October through Christmas Eve. The increasing activity that runs toward Christmas morning didn’t leave any time for reflection, not that I’d have slowed down back then.

Now that I’m older I value my quiet and withdraw from the popular culture and commercial frenzy of the holidays.

I finally found the picture which gives meaning to me for Christmas. A Middle Eastern couple, resting in a stable after the birth of their child. No glowing halo on the baby’s head. A tired mother and a thoughtful father. Centuries of human theology and religion yet to come. The invitation for our transformation is here in the beginning, before all the pomp and circumstance, before all the hurry, in the poor circumstances of the child, in the repose of Mary and the quiet contemplation of Joseph.The Birth

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

 

Catching Light

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I am enjoying the community of Christmas this year. Christmas in the Western world, like God, is not something, but, it seems, everything. Christmas has a long list of traditions during the dark winter near Solstice. Santa Claus, family and winter festivals. Lights and decorated trees. Retail. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t make it into Matthew or Luke until decades later. The birth narratives have their problems with historical accuracy and Christology and, on the literalists side, too many would like to claim pieces of the season for their own and criticize the rest of it. We can choose to respond to our egos and be rigid, or smile and enjoy the birth, however it happened.

I choose the mystery over anger. As the poem says, “I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.” I enjoy Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Proclamation of the birth of a poor peasant boy who captured the imagination of millions and silliness are not mutually exclusive.

I am very much encouraged by the Light, regardless of what were early attempts to cherish this Birth story a long time ago.

Blessings!

Christmas

Communion

 

 

 

 

 

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?
– Mary Did You Know?

Some Biblical scholars believe that not only do we celebrate the birth of Jesus on an arbitrary date, but that the birth narratives added to Matthew and Luke are not historical and were added to fit theological needs.

This Advent I had the thought to not give energy what is now a too-popular trend for sensational headlines and sound bites, I’d focus on what probably happened and see where that led me.

I believe it’s fair to say that Jesus of Nazareth was born, despite the sketchy historical record of this. I say this based on the resultant enthusiasm for his life and teachings by his followers. It’s also fair to say that he was born of a woman, whom Christian scripture names as Mary.

Leaving all the theology aside, we then have a child born of woman in poor circumstances who later would teach a message people centuries later would look to for inspiration. A newborn baby in the hinterlands of Galilee would grow up and ask individuals and humanity as a whole to be transformed, as he became, in its relationship with God.

Christianity hasn’t done much with this transformation, settling for dogma and ritual, but there is time right now and in the future for it to mature and grow. It, of course, is us. The birth of a child is the growing edge of humanity, then and now.

Hopeful, peace on earth to men and women of goodwill!

The Wild West

A professionally charitable person might say their real enemy was modernity. The West had shut down and the party was over.

– Hackberry Holland in “House of the Rising Son” by James Lee Burke

Texas Ranger Holland was ruminating about the violence in the West at end of the 19th century in Burke’s newest novel.  The continuing gun violence on a daily basis may not be about guns or religion per se, or even violence itself, but about people who are not at all comfortable with modern life itself. Western modernism has brought the world to no longer being well-disposed towards religion and a worldview aimed towards a progressive force promising to liberate humankind from ignorance and irrationality.

A complex topic, more on modernity here.

Perhaps the mental health focus has become misdirected. Perhaps we should look less at the diagnosed and more at the disaffected. We can attempt systems to treat the former, but what do we do about the millions who are really, really unhappy with life in the 21st century?

Violence

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
– Lao Tzu (c.604 – 531 B.C.)

So now, another episode of gun violence, this time a Planned Parenthood site. White guy captured alive after killing a cop (and others). We have a fascist white man running for president (with millions of supporters) stoking fear and hatred, with the other candidates his party not far behind in rhetoric.

I played the weapons and violence game a long time ago in a land far, far away. When today’s domestic violence happens, daily it seems, I take a deep breath and go numb for a few minutes. The lack of compassion, mindfulness and logical thinking in the responses is what hurts the most. The rote replies of most politicians is sickening (I almost wrote political leaders, but I’ve stopped using those two words together).

A walk in the woods is needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribal Thinking & Myths

Our culture is headed in the opposite direction of my own journey toward inclusive belief now. I’m not talking about the small stuff, like the Mariners’ season, but anti-intellectualism, violence and lack of moral compass.

This list is imposing and deserving of more than one post, but now I’m thinking of the symbols, myths and legends that ought to be giving us a shared sense of right and wrong.

“A true religion is precisely one that can teach you how to recognize and honor God everywhere, and not just inside your own group symbols”. – The Perennial Tradition, Richard Rohr.

American culture appears to be getting it’s shared sense of right and wrong in the post modern era from sources unencumbered by the thought process. The foundational myths of the United States have been co-opted by tribes, despite what  our president repeats about us all being Americans. The community sense of “We the people” and the belief that our republic would survive only if virtuous individuals came together for the common good have been pushed aside in favor of the rugged individualism and lawlessness of the Wild Wild West.

So where do we get our shared sense of right and wrong? What are the myths that drive our identity today? Seems like the strongest one is the military. “Army strong” has become [fill in the city where a tragedy has occurred] strong. “Boots on the ground” objectifies the reality that those boots are filled with human beings who bleed and die. The US flag has replaced the Constitution as our source of national identity. Saying thank you to those who serve in the military has become attached to every national day and event we have. Those who serve now include many more who wear safety services uniforms. The words honor and hero are so loosely used as to include everyday actions that belong in the category of job descriptions. “Protecting our freedom” is a tagline, but nobody ever asks how exactly that is happening in places like Irag and Afghanistan.

The paragraph above does not mean any lack of respect on my part for members of the armed services, or police and fire departments. This myth began with our government and the media. It instills crisis mentality and black and white; or red, white and blue; thinking.

More American myths include rugged masculine individualism, the gun culture, the Lost Cause movement after the Civil War, the belief that technology (and money) and solve all of our problems, American exceptionalism, the rights listed in the Bill of Rights have no limits or responsibilities, rampant capitalism and companies have the same rights as individuals. Quite a list, and certainly not exhaustive.

Where do thoughtful people look for relief? We remain thoughtful, we vote, we keep the issues in front of our friends and we give to the election campaigns of women and men who understand where these myths are taking us. Perhaps we can reach a point where the shared sense of right and wrong becomes civil and inclusive.


Witness

I like to travel a great deal. We have a small motor home and have also recently enjoyed trips to Mexico and the British Isles. One of the things I enjoy doing is visiting historic places. These might include events like the Battle of Culloden in the Highlands of Scotland, where the Jacobite army of Charles Stuart was crushed by Great Britain. Or standing at Dismal Nitch near the mouth of the Columbia River across from Astoria on a rainy day.

In either case, standing quietly, breathing deeply and holding what happened in 1746 or 1805 in my mind and heart now is witnessing. I do the same thing when I pay respects at a Civil War battlefield. The blood is in the ground. No need for poetic words or patriotic music. Just my silently being fully present is enough.

Witnessing is not passive for me: I can feel the metaphysical connection with the people who were there. It is an honoring of those in the past who lived and lost their lives there. By taking the time to receive the energy  I can return to these sites in my mind’s eye whenever I want.

The thought occurs to me often that those players who are still connected to a site may not care for the souvenir shops and zip lines many pilgrims believe are essential.

Your thoughts? Where have you been able to witness?